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CLASSESTuesday 2:00-5:00 p.m.  UH 316                              OFFICE HOURS T, by appointment        

INSTRUCTOR: Richard T. W. Arthur  rarthur at mcmaster dot ca        OFFICE UH B135; ext. TBD.

About the Course

No philosopher thought or wrote more about the infinite than Leibniz did. It was a central motif in his thought, stretching from his theory of substance (comprising infinitely many monads, bearing infinitely complex relationships to everything else in the universe) to his innovations in mathematics (undergirding his invention of the differential calculus). Leibniz is a particularly fascinating thinker, in that he drew on the work of all his predecessors but always arrived somewhere new. This originality is evident in his theories of the infinite and the infinitely small. In this course we will first set the scene by exploring the historical context in which Leibniz's thought was formed, studying the views of Aristotle, Galileo, Descartes, Pascal and Spinoza, and some of Leibniz’s remarks on them. Then we will proceed to dig deeper, contrasting his concept of the actual infinite with Cantor’s, and exploring his novel theory of change, his controversial account of contingency, and his subtle thoughts on infinitesimals.

As an overview of Leibniz's extremely wide-ranging thought, we will use my Leibniz (Polity Press, 2014), which assumes no prior knowledge of his thought (Leibniz seems to be embarrassingly absent from undergraduate curricula, which is odd given the high esteem he was held in by thinkers as diverse as Diderot, Cantor, Cassirer, Russell, Feuerbach, Weyl, Whitehead, Borges and Deleuze). This book situates his thought in its historical context, as well as exploring its contemporary relevance. It gives overviews of other aspects of Leibniz's thought, such as his views on language, logic, free will, theology, space and time, and much else besides.

Since Leibniz wrote no single magnum opus, we will be reading from a selection of his writings. I will make available on Avenue translations of these, as well as various secondary sources.

© Richard T. W. Arthur 2016